You weren’t here with me, unless you were. But either way, feel free to enjoy this Lolla experience from one man’s subjective point of view, which sometimes states objective facts.
11:30 am: Press pass around my wrist, I brave the long, long line to enter beautiful, sweaty, disgusting Grant Park alongside the throbbing mass of young millennials. They’re mostly wearing different variations on the same outfit. The girls wear tank tops with jean shorts. The boys wear basketball jerseys, khaki shorts and high socks. Lolla gets a lot of flak from some corners of our beloved media for being everything that’s wrong with corporatized festival culture, and the cookie cutter attendees are one feather in their cap. But everyone looks and sounds like they’re having a good time…excitement buzzes about in the air. Who am I to judge, so long as the kids are getting what they came for? Besides, there are some really solid acts on the undercard, acts with critically acclaimed albums. And many of the people here are here this early are here to support those smaller, less industry-machinized acts. Rock on. We pass through the gates, wristbanded fists raised like so many Tommie Smiths.
12:15 pm: After inching my way through security, I make it to the Petrillo Bandshell as Pinegrove is wrapping up its first song. They’re clearly breathless at the size of this crowd and take the time to gawk between songs, but when they’re playing, you’d never be able to tell; the New Jersey natives sound crisp, their wall of sound shimmers above the concrete ground, and Evan Stephens Hall’s twangy howl sounds pristine over this sound system. The frontman has one of the most expressive faces I’ve ever seen on a stage, which perfectly suits the intellectual emotion of his lyrics. His face is poetry in motion, and in this case, it makes up for what he can’t express in words. “All the things I normally say on stage just seem irrelevant,” he tells the biggest crowd his band has ever seen.
12:40 pm: We’ve got our first forcible removal! Two security guards storm through the crowd and take down an obnoxious-looking youth in a printed shirt and a man bun directly in front of me. Turns out the kid punched a cop, unprovoked, at the entrance, and they finally caught up with him in the crowd at Pinegrove. Good riddance.
The band keeps playing like nothing is happening. Their harmonies are glittering perfection, particularly on “Cadmium,” and they have impeccable control over the tempo changes that allow them to emphasize the emotional beats of their raw songs. Oh, and Hall can shred with the best of alt-country guitarists. His solo on “Aphasia” elicits a gargantuan roar.
12:59 pm: Pinegrove finishes with “New Friends,” and Hall does a cartwheel on stage to celebrate. It’s impossible not to love this band. I don’t stick around to dote, though, as Lucy Dacus is starting on the BMI Stage promptly at 1:00.
1:02 pm: I arrive in the middle of Dacus’ first song. Immediately, I can tell her dusky voice is a little muddled in the mix, blending in with the hard Nashville-sounding guitar and bass of her backing band. These guys look and sound like they belong in one of the Music City’s more modern-themed honky tonks.
At the song’s end, she takes a deep breath and talks about coming to Lolla four years ago and seeing bands on this very stage. “It’s your fault how weird this is,” she chides the crowd, which responds with a lusty cheer.
1:14 pm: I’m getting an unexpected vibe from Dacus’ set. She plays a new song, “Down to the Water” I think it’s called, and all of a sudden I’m hearing organ piped in over the PA. There’s no organist on stage. For a singer-songwriter whose modus operandi is matter of fact, optimistic sincerity, it feels like she’s sacrificed some authenticity in the name of filling out her sound. I would have liked to hear her play the chords instead on her guitar.
1:31 pm: Dacus has been wearing her Resting Serene Face for the entire set, setting a mood that works really well under the trees at the BMI Stage. Between the downtempo songs she plays alone on guitar and the energetic staples like “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” the set feels contemplative but tranquil, like the sessions of musing that would’ve happened at Plato’s Academy. It feels like we’re in the middle of a forest, reflecting and relaxing together. A downside of this: she doesn’t really hold my attention on stage.
1:40 pm: Fittingly, “Pillar of Truth” is Dacus’ last song. She sings about a pillar of truth turning to dust, the way this “natural” setting will when I head out to the rest of Grant Park to explore the festival.
1:45 pm: I run into a journalist friend of mine. We swap intended schedules. There’s a nice little fraternal feeling I get whenever I meet up with a writer buddy, like we’re in some sort of trench war together. Not as deadly as a real trench war, obviously.
2:08 pm: Hiatus Kaiyote is a weird, off kilter dream. Lead singer Nai Palm sings with plenty of soul, expressing more verve in her intonation than she ever could with her lyrics and acting as a sort of spirit guide. Her presence is necessary because this is music you can groove to, but not without always thinking about it. From the heady synths to the not quite danceable, syncopated beat, Hiatus Kaiyote’s set is somewhere in the middle of jazz and electro-soul-funk. If I were high, I’d be on another planet right now. But I’m not, so I’m just chilling and a little confused.
2:49 pm: I follow the lead of a surprisingly strong minority of the crowd and head out, partly to charge my phone but partly because I’m getting a little too tripped out by this. Hiatus Kaiyote’s set is all about finding the crunchiest, weirdest grooves possible with modern technology and making them resonate at the frequency of your rib cage. It’s awesome for a while, but one can only take so many limping, pounding beats.
On my way out, I notice Lucy Dacus watching from the side of the stage. She looks just as serene as she did during her own set.
3:10 pm: I charge my phone for the first time at the press lounge, which features aluminum cans of water. I make a mental to stock up on water cans for the apocalypse.
3:30 pm: I walk over to Yeasayer at the Lakeshore stage, who starts their set with “Dead Sea Scrolls” and its strong Talking Heads influence. They have one of the weirdest set design I’ve ever seen, an assortment of Sgt. Pepper-esque cardboard figures with technocentric modifications. Among the figures I see up there is Mark Twain, whose mustache and hair light up to the beat of Yeasayer’s music. I’m not sure what he’d make of the band’s electronic anxiety and reverb-laden performance on songs like “Madder Red” and “Henrietta”; it sounds good to me, though. I want to dance to this, despite its clear intellectual bent.
4:06 pm: Yeasayer Chris Keating, having already proposed marriage to Michelle Obama, implores the crowd to vote in the presidential election, even if they’re Bernie or Bust. “If you like art or music, you better not be voting for motherfucking Trump,” he exhorts to a roar of support. I wonder if he’s seen the Trump Tower here, which features the mogul’s name in massive letters visible up and down the Chicago River. Rather than get the crowd riled up in anger, Keating leads them into the “singalong” of “Ambling Alp,” which does indeed feature a number of catchy, easily repeated lines and pretty harmonies.
4:27 pm: The band finishes with “I Am Chemistry,” a hit off their April album Amen & Goodbye. Guitarist Anand Wilder generally jitters around as he plays and sings, and this quaking is amplified by orders of magnitude when he launches into a soaring solo toward the end of the song. On the whole, it’s been an impressive performance, Yeasayer’s bantering never reaching annoying levels (unless you’re a Republican) and their brand of art rock forming a bridge from new wave’s best to modern electro-pop.
4:32 pm: On my way to Wild Child, to which I would be late anyway, I hit a dead end. Not sure how that logistical failure happens at a big festival, but it’s a sign. With my phone battery low, hunger building, storms en route and happy hour impending at the press lounge, I head off to get some food and then enjoy my hard-earned lounge privileges This turns out to be a wilder venture than I had initially thought. First, I get fallen on by a girl who has leapt on a dude’s back in line. Fortunately, I’ve just returned from a trek in the Peruvian Andes and the girl just rolls off my powerful back. In the background and without context, I hear someone say, “As someone who’s been a side piece, if you get a man like that, hold onto that shit.” Words to live by, to be sure.
I get a gyro and it’s really tasty. Unfortunately, it doesn’t all survive…I don’t quite complete my game of frogged down Columbus Drive unscathed. Some girl, who of course isn’t looking where she walks, rams directly into my gyro and knocks about a fifth of it onto the ground. I would pour one out for the lost soldiers, but that would be even more of a waste. She looks pretty guilty as she walks away, that drunken type of guilty where you can see that there’s not a full comprehension of what just happened, just a shadow of blame.
4:51 pm: I eat my gyro and begin writing about the day’s events. I take pride in my ability to type quickly on my phone—I haven’t brought a laptop into the festival—but still, writing always takes longer than you originally anticipated. I get up to the events of Hiatus Kaiyote, then decide that no way am I going to be late for Kurt Vile.
5:49 pm: Pinegrove is in the press lounge as I leave, so I congratulate them on an amazing set. They’re all very nice people.
6:01 pm: I arrive just in time to hear Kurt Vile mumble something into his microphone and begin with “Dust Bunnies.” His is the second twangy voice I’ve heard at the Petrillo Bandshell today, after Pinegrove’s Evan Stephens Hall, and it’s just as sincere. When Vile sings about himself as an outlaw, you believe that he’s an outlaw, or at least that he thought he was when he wrote the song. He seems incapable of faking anything, from the near-motionless ecstasy in his guitar soloing to the droll delivery of his lines that suggests a reliving rather than a fictional storytelling.
6:09 pm: A commercial airliner flies overhead as Vile launches into the “already gone” part of his song “Jesus Fever,” and things seem too perfect to be real life.
6:24 pm: Vile tells us that we’re exploring “the deep, dark depths of his soul.” He says this in a kindly, non-demonic way that leaves everyone to whom he talks happy about being part of the experience. It does not at all match the ennui of Vile’s entire discography. That Vile can sing about such sadness while maintaining a peppy demeanor in between songs suggests that maybe performing is his catharsis. He certainly looks blissful when he plays his guitar.
6:44 pm: The set is starting to wear on a bit—I’m thinking of it as the music I’d play in the background at my rooftop barbecue-when suddenly, a wild electric guitar appears! And it’s not even a traditional electric that Vile is playing; it’s a souped-up acoustic guitar that’s distorted to hell. Vile shreds it as if it’s the final guitar solo he’ll play in his life. His playing takes heavily from the blues traditions of the world’s Claptons and country bands (hence the barbecue music feeling), but he makes the style his own with his brand of passion. After the solo finishes, Vile heads into “Pretty Pimpin’,” and the crowd, sensing a hit, becomes engrossed.
6:57 pm: As Vile and his Violators finish up their set with “Freak Train,” I see a girl wearing those silly “spy” glasses, the ones with a plastic nose attached, except that there’s a penis in place of the nose. If the Freak Train were a real concept (and Vile almost has me convinced), she’d be driving the damn thing.
7:01 pm: I’ve been curious about Matt Healy’s sex appeal for several months now, so instead of checking out The Arcs, I walk over to the Bud Light stage for The 1975. Almost instantaneously, I’m surrounded by teenagers in full fangirl mode. “He could say the ABCs and I’d lose my shit,” one girl says of Healy. My goal is to find out whether this is hyperbole.
7:08 pm: After the glammy funk of “Love Me” and “UGH!” I have concluded that Matt Healy is basically Naughty Jon Snow. He’s got the same sad eyes and curly black hair, but rather than taking the Black and operating under a strict moral code, he’s taken a gray suit and looks like he’s been out all night clubbing and riding around in limos with multiple attractive women. The sun is still up, mind you.
7:33 pm: By the end of “She’s American,” all the American girls in the audience have fallen for Healy’s charm. Not me. To be fair, I’m a straight dude, but I’m still capable of objectively observing whether a frontman has the Jim Morrison factor. Healy’s close, but he isn’t quite there. I think it’s got to do with his crowd interactions; he could do much more to garner audience participation with subtle looks and sexy body language than he does currently.
7:36 pm: “Loving Someone” ends with me unseduced and a jam session involving two midi buttons and a drum set. I can’t imagine it’s terribly exciting for Adam Hann and Ross MacDonald to press buttons, and their boredom shows.
7:53 pm: The band plays “The Sound” and finally, at long last, the crowd is fully engaged, jumping up and down as if this is the EDM stage. Healy had this power all along…he could have used it to seduce me earlier in the set, but he chose to save all his social capital for a couple of dance numbers at the end. I leave confident that The 1975’s tight performance and catchy songwriting will make them power players for years to come, but unless their frontman can learn to bring it 100% for an entire set, there will always be a cap on their ability.
8:13 pm: Somehow, incredibly, I meet up with my cousin on the way to J. Cole, whom I’ve decided to see over Lana Del Rey and The Last Shadow Puppets simply because I haven’t seen any rap yet today.
8:19 pm: The grounds in front of the Samsung Stage are packed. My cousin and I are maybe a quarter mile back from the stage. This is going to be a wonderful live concert video of J. Cole.
8:46 pm: It’s become clear that J. Cole is a really good performer, even from this far away. He knows his audience, donning a vintage Michael Jordan #45 Bulls jersey. On stage (or, rather, on the video of the stage), we can see him gesticulating to the crowd with each word, and they seem to be responding to him obediently. We can also hear all his words, and unlike other rappers I’ve seen in concert, J. Cole actually delivers entire verses. Unfortunately, at this distance, it’s hard for the performance to deliver any sort of emotional punch.
9:09 pm: Some kid throws up on the ground about ten feet from me. I don’t see it happen, but the reactions of the surrounding people are enough to immediately communicate what has happened. There’s also a dude wearing a penis-shaped hat nearby. It’s looking like it might be time to go, and I’m not the only one who thinks this way; I overhear a girl on her way out say, “This went from zero to trashy so quickly.” I make sure to save that quote for use in all future situations.
9:18 pm: J. Cole plays “G.O.M.D.,” everyone in the massive crowd bumps along, and when the song reaches its conclusion, my cousin and I bail. We’ll get a better view of the show in after-the-fact video clips, to be honest. On the way out, we pass a long line of ambulances outside the Flosstradamus (and Post Malone, apparently) show, ready to take all the dehydrated and drugged-up teens to the hospital for a night of IV fluids and worried parents’ calls.
12:45 am: I finish chronicling Day 1 of Lollapalooza and pass out from exhaustion, as I’ve been running on four hours of sleep.